The liver is the largest solid organ in the body, sitting just under the rib cage on the right side of the abdomen, about the size of a football. Its main job is to filter the blood coming from organs such as the stomach and intestines, help our body digest food, eliminate poison and store energy. It also keeps healthy blood sugar levels and regulates blood clotting. You can’t live if your whole liver gets damaged as it performs life-sustaining tasks.
Liver failure happens when the liver isn't working well enough to perform its functions (for example, producing the bile and helping the body eliminate harmful substances). Many different diseases and conditions cause liver malfunction. Some liver diseases can be inherited (genetic) while others can be due to a variety of harmful factors, some of which include:
Sugar. Too much sugar can not only cause diabetes or toothache, but can also severely damage your liver. Sugar contains fructose which is absorbed directly into the bloodstream and converted into glucose or stored as fat. So, even if you’re not overweight, limit your consumption of sweets and other beverages.
Overweight. A fatty liver is not only acquired through excessive drinking. It can also be developed if there is extra fat build up in your liver cells. Aim to exercise at least 30 minutes a day and watch your diet to manage fatty liver. Some experts say that keeping to a healthy weight can be an ideal approach to avoiding liver problems.
Medicines and herbal supplements. There are certain medicines and herbal supplements that can damage your liver. Inform your doctor about the medicines and supplements you take, even if they claim to be organic or natural.
Pain relievers. Go easy on the pain medications. Be sure to take them only when you need them. Also, be mindful of some medicines that have the same content. Taking these habitually and mindlessly may eventually lead to liver failure.
Fast food. Saturated fats that are found in take-out food like french fries or burgers make it hard for your liver to function properly. Next time, choose a healthier option to prevent inflammation of the liver which can lead to scarring and cirrhosis.
Foods that are good for your liver are oatmeal, broccoli, coffee, green tea, water, almonds, spinach, blueberries, and herbs & spices.
Hepatitis B. Needlestick injury, tattooing and piercing may result in Hepatitis B. It is a chronic life-threatening disease that attacks the liver and can also be passed on from mother to child during pregnancy. Hepatitis B can also spread through exposure to infected blood and body fluids such as saliva, menstrual, vaginal and seminal fluids.
If you want to protect yourself, your partner and your liver, practice safe sex and get tested early on. Most of the time you wouldn’t know that you have it until many years later. You may also ask your doctor about Hepatitis A or B vaccination if you need it. Hepatitis B is the most common cause of liver-related deaths in the Philippines, according to the National Kidney and Transplant Institute.
Toxins from chemicals. You may not be aware of it, but chemicals in household and cleaning products can hurt your liver once you inhale too much of them. Protect yourself by wearing a mask and make sure that the windows are open every time you use them.
“Chronic hepatitis infection, alcoholic liver disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease account for the most common causes of liver disorders of adult Filipinos”, says an article from The Medical City. “While hepatitis B is the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer in Filipinos, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is also on the rise”, it adds.
Liver cancer is one of the top causes of death in the Philippines. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the death rate in our country is 9.88% per 100,000 of population. According to a Department of Health (DOH) advisory, it is the third most common form of cancer among Filipinos — in men, it is the second most common, while in women, it is the ninth most prevalent. Liver cirrhosis is defined by the American Cancer Society as ‘a disease in which liver cells become damaged and are replaced by scar tissue’. The ACS also adds that ‘people with cirrhosis have an increased risk of liver cancer. Most (but not all) people who develop liver cancer already have some evidence of cirrhosis’.
Early warning signs of liver failure include nausea, blood in the stool and loss of appetite. Make sure to pay attention to any changes in your body and consult with your doctor immediately for proper treatment and medication.
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The liver is an amazingly hardworking organ. Be kinder to it. It can tolerate a lot of abuse but can only stretch so far before it breaks. Don’t wait for any symptoms to manifest before you take any action. Love your liver and your liver will love you back. January is Liver Cancer and Viral Hepatitis Awareness Month.